Evil Lurks in Santa Ana

On First Saturday, the exhibit Gothic opened at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art in Santa Ana, featuring 56 artists from around the world working in a variety of different mediums, all within the genre of “Goth.” During opening night, the warehouse turned art co-op was transformed into a New Wave nightclub with artists and attendees dressed in their most morbid and theatrical attire. It was a dark and dapper atmosphere which began in full force when exhibition curator Amy V. Grimm arrived by coffin in the back of a hearse. OCCCA member and exhibiting artist Craig Sibley could be seen dressed in an Edwardian era tux, dark round sunglasses and gold-tipped walking cane, while fellow exhibiting artist Stefanie Vega coordinated her outfit to match her piece, The Forgotten Thing, with a headdress of black thorns and a black leather strapped petticoat and hoop skirt.

Image above: Craig Sibley, YEARS REMAINING, 36 x 18 inches, Digital painting on paper

Talking with the artists that night, it was clear that this was not an uncommon mode of dress for many of them. The exception being Sibley who admitted that he had to reach “waaay back” into his closet for his outfit. The excitement surrounding the opening spoke to the acceptance of “goth” as a widespread movement. Whether you fess up or not, lurking in the depths of your past (or your closet) may be a forgotten “goth” and that sense of belonging, although seemingly in contrast to the standoffish attitude attributed to most “Gothicists,” is a huge factor in the popularity of Gothic influences in contemporary art and popular culture. From the paintings of Mark Ryden to the “Twilight” films to Lady Gaga, our society is moving more and more into the shadows cast by the whole of human history. As we go deeper our creative output seems to become more and more focused on the trends and aesthetics of the past.

Goth as a subculture and visual genre has been proposed as the most relevant of all modern/contemporary modes as far back as the 1970’s when Esquire boldly stated, “Evil Lurks in California” in an issue that drew connections between Gothic subculture, Charles Manson, and the Tate-La Bianca murders. That time in history to current day  forms an incredibly wide spectrum and Grimm, who is an art historian, does an excellent job of choosing work that reflects the whole of the genre’s history. Grimm writes in her juror statement, “The merging of literature, film, music and the visual arts is the core strength of the Gothic subject.” That is abundantly clear in this exhibit.

Left: Carrie Ann Baade, EXPLAINING DEATH TO A RABBIT, 20 x 30 inches, 27 x 37 inches framed, Oil on panel

Not a single artist stands clear of obvious influences from past eras, with references to The Middle Ages, The Renaissance and every decade since 1900. The obvious symbology and historical influences create multiple points of entry through which you are able to connect to the artist’s vision. Explaining Death to a Rabbit by Carrie Ann Baade, for example, has so many symbolic references that you could spend an hour decoding it. And the same can be said for every single work in the show.

Another stand out piece is a sculpture by Elyse Hochstadt entitled Cloven (pictured below). Constructed of molded clay, the work features four bronze painted cloven-hoove baby booties that inspire images of exorcism and the 1968 film Rosemarie’s Baby.

The exhibit as a whole is incredibly engaging and I agree with with Grimm when she writes, “…society’s insatiable appetite for all things Gothic is testament to the need to understand and express the darkness that makes us human.”

If you were unable to attend the opening, replicate the atmosphere as best you can by attending related events held at OCCCA:

Febuary 18th: musical performances by Buko Pan Guerra (solo “gothic” banjo), Cold Grey Eye (Ethnic Industrial) and a screening of the seminal 1981 live performance by Siouxsie and the Banshees

March 24th: Toaster Music, featuring Sumako and Sander Roscoe Wolff (beats, electronics, guitars, etc.)

A second opening will be held on March 3 from 6 – 10 pm